Indian Military Inclusion Study Group Overlooking Trans Voices
New Delhi - Despite the landmark NALSA judgment nine years ago and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act enacted five years ago in India, the transgender community continues to face discrimination and transphobic violence. The 2019 Act aimed to enhance visibility and employment opportunities for transgender individuals, but they still lack essential resources. A recent report from The Indian Express indicates that the armed forces are exploring the inclusion of transgender individuals. While this move may be welcomed by many, there are still concerns and questions within the transgender community about the potential implications of this step.
The Mooknayak spoke to prominent Trans activist and fellow Ambedkarite Grace Banu regarding the recent developments. Grace said, “The Indian Armed Forces are a significant source of employment. If they are denying us opportunities, it means a huge loss for the community. And there is no scientific logic behind the denial of justice. Trans people who are willing to work with the forces being denied the opportunity is discrimination and oppression. This obviously is transphobia.”
The Indian Armed Forces are actively exploring avenues to facilitate the inclusion of transgender individuals in various defence roles, as reported by The Indian Express. A special joint study group, convened by the Principal Personnel Officers Committee (PPOC), has been tasked with examining the practical aspects of integrating the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 within the defence forces.
According to the source cited by the English Daily, this initiative signifies a concerted effort to evaluate potential employment opportunities for transgender persons within the military and to determine the specific roles they can effectively undertake. The study group is expected to play a crucial role in formulating strategies and policies to ensure the successful and inclusive implementation of the Transgender Persons Act within the context of the armed forces.
According to an online community for LGBTQIA+ individuals, YesWeExist, the study group has no trans individuals. It posted on X (Formally Twitter) saying, “Without including any trans person, the Indian Armed Forces have formed a study group to find out if they can employ trans persons. The Indian Defence Ministry is the world's largest employer with close to 30 lakh employees. It violates the law by not employing LGBTQIA+ Indians.”
Grace asked, “Without a trans person in the study group, how are they even looking into the matter? How do talks about gender equality even make sense? It is completely unfair. Again, cis people only hold the power to make decisions about us. Where are we in this equation? Who gets to decide regarding our rights? There is no logic behind this group if there is no representation.”
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019
Grace further talks about how the state itself is not acknowledging the act that came in 2019. The activist said, “The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act states no employer can deny opportunities to the community. This denial is punishable by law. Now the government is doing the same thing. If they themselves go against the act, what about others at the ground level? Not only the forces but various examinations do not have a separate column for transgender people. This goes against the NALSA judgment as well.”
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 received approval in the Rajya Sabha of the Parliament on November 26, 2019, as reported by PRS Legislative Research. This legislation aims to prevent discrimination against transgender individuals, encompassing aspects such as denial of services or unjust treatment in areas like education, employment, healthcare, access to public goods and facilities, equal opportunities, freedom of movement, residence rights, property occupation, eligibility for public or private offices, and entry into government or private establishments responsible for the care of transgender individuals.
The Bill defines a transgender person as one “whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth. It includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations, genderqueers, and persons with socio-cultural identities, such as Kinnar and Hijra. Intersex variations are defined to mean a person who at birth shows variation in his or her primary sexual characteristics, external genitalia, chromosomes, or hormones from the normative standard of male or female body.”
The act states, “No establishment shall discriminate against any transgender person in any matter relating to employment, including, but not limited to, recruitment, promotion, and other related issues. Every establishment shall ensure compliance with the provisions of this Act and provide such facilities to transgender persons as may be prescribed.”
India to Join the League of 19 Countries with “Trans-Friendly” Army
India is contemplating the inclusion of transgender individuals in its armed forces, a move that would place the country among a limited number of nations permitting such enlistment. The decision follows the formation of a study group tasked with assessing the implications and potential implementation of this initiative within the defense forces, as reported by The Indian Express.
Notably, if India proceeds with the recruitment of transgender individuals, it will join a select group of 19 countries, including the US, the UK, and Thailand, that already allow their service in the military. The Netherlands pioneered this inclusivity in 1974, becoming the first country to grant transgender people the right to serve in the armed forces. The Royal Netherlands Army is recognized for its progressive "Do Tell" policy, active participation in pride events, and its status as one of the most inclusive militaries for transgender soldiers, according to The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.
Other nations, such as Sweden (1976), Denmark (1978), and Norway (1979), subsequently followed suit in embracing transgender individuals within their military ranks. Canada joined this group in the early 1990s, and a 2015 study affirmed that the inclusion of transgender personnel had not adversely impacted the Canadian Forces' effectiveness. Throughout the 2000s, various countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Belgium, Austria, and Spain, made their military more trans-friendly.
While India currently does not allow transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces, the recent formation of a study group signals a potential shift in policy. However, discussions surrounding this prospect include considerations of potential challenges, such as housing and administrative issues, and opinions differ on whether special concessions should be granted in areas like training, selection standards, or postings to difficult locations. This development aligns with India's broader efforts toward fostering equality and inclusivity, building on advancements in LGBTQ+ rights.